For 16-year-old S. Neeraja who accompanied her father to the post office at North Veli Street on Wednesday morning, the idea of sending letters or postcards by post was new. “I have an email address and so do all my friends and cousins. We also have “apps” on our phone that enables instant messaging” she explained.

She and others like her belong to a generation that depends on technology for instant communication. But the stream of people walking in and out of the post office is evidence that the postal services in the city are still relevant.

“Inland letters and postcards are still in use despite the fact that people can now just call and pass on messages. Institutions and small organizations use it to advertise their products” says a postman at the head post office.

“The dip in the use of postal services among the general public, however, can be attributed to the advent of courier services, e-mails and cell phones” he adds.

Diverse Services

The new services launched by India Post over the last few years are aimed at generating interest among the public.

To enthuse philatelists and consumers alike, India Post in Madurai launched the ‘My Stamp’ service in August which went down well with people in the city and the surrounding districts.

“We have around 400 orders from people to print personalized postage stamps since the launch. The option of printing pictures of people, historical places, wildlife and famous tourist sites as commemorative postage stamps has found favour with many” observes an official of the Madurai Philatelic Bureau.

Epost, a service offered by India Post, is being marketed as a replacement for the telegram which was ceased by Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) in mid-July, on grounds of non-viability.

“People who need to send urgent messages just have to write the message on an A4 Sheet which can then be scanned and mailed to the post office located at the destination of the receiver. The message will be printed out and delivered immediately to the recipient” explained an official.

The service is yet to be fully exploited. While there were some customers who made use of the service to send Diwali greetings, officials say just 50 Eposts are sent on an average every month.

“Many people are not aware of the service. The messages reach their destination in the original form, and it just costs Rs 10. The services are also offered at lower prices for bulk corporate orders” says K. Senthilvel, a postal marketing executive.

Bulk or mass mail services offered by post offices too are fast gaining popularity and used by organizations that need to send out monthly bills or advertisement pamphlets to customers.

People are required to hand in the postcards or letters to the post offices which are then stamped, put in envelopes and dispatched.

The past and present

Currently there are around 400 postmen in the district which has three head post offices.Their numbers have dwindled over the last few years.

“In the past, two or three postmen were assigned to a single area. While one postman handled ordinary letters and postcards, the other took care of money orders and parcels” says S.B. Rajamohan, divisional secretary of a union affiliated to the National Federation of Postal Employees.

“The number of letters and parcels to be delivered has decreased and only one postman is assigned to an area nowadays” he adds, pointing to the small bundles of letters being sifted for delivery.

The postmen say that the number of money orders has dropped drastically over the last decade. “With banks widening their reach, people seldom feel the need to send money and prefer to make deposits. We especially miss delivering money to families from their kith and kin and seeing the joy on their faces and being a part of something so important and personal,” Mr. Rajamohan recalls.

Once known for their financial services, the interest rates offered by post offices are lower than that of the banks, yet people in the city continue to opt for the recurring deposit savings scheme offered by the postal department.

“The network of agents operating across the district by visiting homes and collecting the money to be deposited or invested every month made the savings scheme popular. It found favour with senior citizens and people who don’t have easy access to banks” a senior official from the postal department points out.

Despite the fact that people have turned to alternative options to communicate, postmen proclaim with pride that the network and connectivity of the postal department is unparalleled.

“The district now has many new extension areas which still rely on postal services because private courier services do not make deliveries there” a retired postman indicates.

“People used to say that nobody knows an area better than the postman. While that is changing, the services offered by the postal department are still indispensable to many” he says, with conviction.

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